…Mary said to the angel, “How can this be, since I am a virgin?” The angel said to her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be holy; he will be called Son of God. And now, your relative Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son; and this is the sixth month for her who was said to be barren. For nothing will be impossible with God.” Then Mary said, “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.” Then the angel departed from her… (see complete text: Luke 1:26-36)
How deep is your “yes” to the Lord?
If you can, take a second to think about that question and really ask the Holy Spirit to help you answer it sincerely. There is no one to judge you in your answer—whether to praise you for your faithfulness or criticize you for the lack thereof. But let’s be honest, you probably already have a sense of what the answer might be without even asking it. Most of us are well aware of when we ‘re saying yes to where the Lord has called us to serve him, and when we might be running away from that call.
Of course that call could be to anything or anywhere—whether it is serving faithfully as a mother or father, pursuing a particular career path (or leaving one behind), or even simply going about one’s day in gratitude and faithfulness to the Lord in the midst of dark and difficult circumstances. Our “yes” to the Lord is not only about what we do, or even when we do it; it is also about the spirit in which we do it, and in no one has that spirit been more beautiful, more complete than in Mary.
Here we have a young woman at the height of vulnerability, whose “yes” to the Lord would cost her everything—her reputation, every personal dream she might have had, potentially even her life. Though we have no evidence of how often it was actually carried out, the punishment for adultery was death by stoning, and Mary’s pregnancy would seem to present incontrovertible evidence that she had been unfaithful to her betrothed, Joseph.
And yet even in spite of these risks and sacrifices we find no hint of hesitation or qualification in Mary’s response to the Angel Gabriel. Her yes is complete, not only in the sense of obedience, but also in the sense of profound hope and gratitude to the Lord for placing this call on her seen in the Magnificat just a few verses later.
Three things (among many) stand out about Mary’s yes that serve as powerful reminders to those of us who may not find it quite as easy to offer the Lord such complete surrender and obedience.
1) First of all it was not about what she would achieve for the Lord in her obedience, but about what the Lord would achieve though her. The gift of carrying God’s Son in her womb was precisely that, a miraculous gift that, in no way, shape or form could she have achieved or merited in her own strength. But God could and did achieve it in her simply through her willingness to surrender wholeheartedly to His will for her life, and even more importantly, His will for the whole world.
2) Second, Mary’s “yes”, indeed all of our “yeses” have consequences that go beyond their immediate context in ways that transcend time and space. Mary’s “yes’” to the Lord enabled her to bear the one in whom all men, for all time would find the hope of salvation. What seems to be a simple act of obedience is, in fact, a supreme act of faithfulness to the spread of God’s kingdom here on earth, and it is the paradigm for all of our discipleship and witness since. We, like Mary, are all called to bear Christ in this world—whether it is in our responsibilities to our families, to our job, our friends and our communities—and we do so precisely by saying yes to the Lord and serving him wholeheartedly in every way He has called us. Wherever we are is where He wants us to serve him, trusting that no matter how apparently mundane that call may appear, the effects of that faithfulness have eternal value for ourselves and countless others we may never even know.
3) Mary was confident that, although this call on her life would cost her everything, it would not be at her expense, as if she were ancillary to the purposes of that call. No, she was central to the purposes of that call because by it, she, too, would not only be saved but also honored. “All generations will call me blessed” she says, in confidence that the fulfillment of God’s call rested not on the whims of man but in His faithfulness, for His plans are not to harm his faithful ones, but to prosper them and give them a hope and a future (Jeremiah 29:11). Wherever He has called you, wherever He is asking you to serve Him right here and now, however great the sacrifice to your dreams or even your life know this: you are not ancillary to the plans of God. You are not simply His instrument, but His beloved child whom He delights to use not only for his glory, but for your good.
How deep is your “yes” to the Lord? And how can you deepen that “yes”? Whatever the cost know wherever the Lord calls you, He will equip you if you will but say yes. And through that yes He will not only bless countless others, but also richly bless you in His love, honor and grace.
“Are we not perhaps all afraid in some way? If we let Christ enter fully into our lives, if we open ourselves totally to him, are we not afraid that He might take something away from us? Are we not perhaps afraid to give up something significant, something unique, something that makes life so beautiful? Do we not then risk ending up diminished and deprived of our freedom? . . . No! If we let Christ into our lives, we lose nothing, nothing, absolutely nothing of what makes life free, beautiful and great. No! Only in this friendship are the doors of life opened wide. Only in this friendship is the great potential of human existence truly revealed. Only in this friendship do we experience beauty and liberation. And so, today, with great strength and great conviction, on the basis of long personal experience of life, I say to you, dear young people: Do not be afraid of Christ! He takes nothing away, and he gives you everything. When we give ourselves to him, we receive a hundredfold in return. Yes, open, open wide the doors to Christ – and you will find true life. Amen.” (Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI)
Kathleen Durham is the Vice President of Alighieri Press and serves as an author and speaker.